Today in Israel, the nation came to a stand-still.

For two-minutes a siren wailed across the country, a somber reminder of the death of six million Jews at the hands of Nazi aggression during the Second World War.

It is a powerful moment:

This annual memorial is important because:

1. We need to face the tragic consequences that ravage the world when human human beings fail to acknowledge the shadow side of our nature.

2. We are in not free today of the deadly tendency to divide the human community.

It is often said “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana 1863-1952).

It is equally true that those who refuse to face the violent tendency that lurks in the human psyche are doomed to act unconsciously from that unacknowledged shadow.

In his extraordinary essay, “An Enemy Hath Done This,” Rowan Williams warns,

There are moments for all of us when the liberal, rational, humane categories we normally operate with suddenly collapses; sooner or later, we must all drive into the extermination camp and confront without illusion the most unbearable truth about what it is to be human, the truth that benevolence and rationality are not at the heart of people’s actions. (A Ray of Darkness, p. 75)

Nazism laid bare the most evil human tendencies dressed in mostly respectable garb.

The atrocities of National Socialism were conducted and facilitated, or at least tolerated, by sophisticated, “civilized”, and well-educated people. It takes more than a few fringe fanatics to identify, arrest, transport, incarcerate, torture, and exterminate over six million people from every corner of Europe.

The attempt to murder all Jews for no reason other than the fact that they were Jewish was not carried out by a few barbarian hordes. Nazi genocide was conducted by people who went home at the end of their work day to play with their children and listen to classical music. The people who orchestrated the slaughter of the Jews would not have seemed strange or heinous had we met them outside the death camps. We might well have felt comfortable in the company of these mass murderers in a context apart from their professional lives.

The thugs who slaughtered the Jews of Europe were people like us. We must be honest about the beast that lurks beneath the surface of our civilized exterior. We ignore the dark side of our nature at our peril.

Jesus was not indulging in hyperbole when he taught,

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a; brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21,22)

Thought and word are the parent of action.

When we divide the human community into people we designate as “good” and those we perceive to be “bad,” we are starting down a dangerous road. We cannot afford the luxury of separating people into those we approve and those we deem less worthy of respect, freedom and dignity.

The world knew, certainly since 1938, of the horrors being perpetrated against Jews in Europe. While there were acts of kindness and generosity towards Jews, the world for the most part, responded by tightening immigration quotas, making immigration into Palestine illegal, and turning a blind eye to the horror unfolding under Nazi rule.

Holocaust Remembrance Day needs to be, not only a Jewish memorial, but a world memorial. We do well to pause with our Jewish brothers and sisters for a few minutes today and call to mind the indifference and darkness that drive so much human devastation.

History’s examples of violence or even apathy in the face of genocide, are a warning  against any word or action by which one group dehumanizes or in any way diminishes another. Even the smallest intolerance must not be tolerated.

The Holocaust is a searing reminder of what happens when we forget that all human beings are equal. To remember the Holocaust is to face the challenge of compassion, kindness, and abundant generosity.

As we live increasingly in close proximity to a bewildering diversity of people, the Holocaust calls us to embrace those who may not look or speak as we do.

We cannot afford division and separation. We are one human community. Only together can we hope to establish a world that provides liveable conditions for all.